Radio Derb: If Harvard Went Meritocratic, A Feast For Cynics, And When Racial Favoritism Is OK, Etc. 
06/30/2023
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01:15  If Harvard went meritocratic.  (Getting the numbers right.)

07:15  The administrative trapdoor.  (The Supremes always leave one.)

11:38  A feast for cynics.  (Channeling George Wallace.)

15:52  The Russian tragedy.  (Look what it’s become.)

22:25  Fukuyama, Huntington, and reality.  (At least we look good.)

28:05  When racial favoritism is OK.  (Hi there, Madam Justice.)

29:59  Cooling on India.  (A lot of negatives.)

32:13  Airport chaos.  (Are we getting worse at complex system management?)

34:31  Getting younger in Korea.  (What’s not to like?)

36:53  Signoff.  (With Kipling.)

01—Intro.     And Radio Derb is on the air! Greetings, listeners, and welcome to the nine hundredth edition of the Dissident Right's longest-running podcast. This is of course your assiduously genial host John Derbyshire popping the cork in celebration [pop] and bringing you highlights and lowdarks from the week's news.

As of course you know, there were two big stories this week: One, what looked like—and may even have been—an attempted military coup in Russia; and two, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action in college admissions. I shall take them in reverse order.

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02—If Harvard went meritocratic.     Before covering the Supreme Court's decision made public this week, I should offer a mild apology.

Two weeks ago here on Radio Derb, looking forward to the Supremes' end-of-month ruling, I said this, quote from myself, June 16th:

The fundamental problem here is to find some middle way between meritocratic college admissions, which are unacceptable, and naked favoritism—otherwise known as "holistic" admissions, which ought to be unacceptable in a fair society.

The meritocratic option is unacceptable because of race differences in intelligence. On a strictly meritocratic admissions process, one that totally depended on results from tests of cognitive ability, the Ivy League would be forty percent East Asian, forty percent white, two percent black, and eighteen percent other—other Asian plus nonwhite Hispanics.

End quote.

Those are the numbers as I thought I remembered reading them somewhere, and I didn't bother to confirm them with an internet search. Sloth, as I have mentioned before, is the only one of the Seven Deadly Sins that gives me serious trouble, and I'm afraid I let Sloth take the wheel there.

Fortunately I have attentive listeners to correct my shortcomings. One such directed me to the Expert Report submitted to the Supremes five years ago in the key case here, Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. Harvard.

The report was compiled by Peter Arcidiacono, who is Professor of Economics at Duke University. You can of course read it on the Internet. Set aside some time, though; it's 168 pages.

On page 44 you'll find Table 5.3, heading: "Share of admits of each race/ethnicity if equally drawn from different academic index deciles." What's that all about?

Well, Prof. Arcidiacono is exploring what the racial proportions of admissions to Harvard would look like if the admissions were determined solely by applicants' academic records—solely by merit.

He breaks it down by deciles. That is to say, what would the proportions look like if Harvard selected from the topmost tenth of applicants—topmost by their academic records, that is—then what if they selected from the topmost two-tenths, topmost three-tenths, and so on?

Key takeaway: If Harvard were to select from just the top one-tenth of applicants ranked by academic record—which is in fact what Harvard most likely would do—then Asian Americans would be 51.52 percent, Whites 36.54, Hispanics 2.69 percent, blacks 0.76 percent.

So the numbers I gave you two weeks ago, that in my sloth I thought I remembered, were probably mean to Asians, although since I broke out Fancy Asians from Jungle Asians and the good professor doesn't, it's hard to tell.

My numbers were certainly way too generous to blacks: my two percent should have been less than one percent. On whites I was close enough: I said forty percent, Prof. Arcidiacono says 36½.

And I should add that the actual percentage of blacks in the class admitted when Prof. Arcidiacono compiled his report was 15.81. That's nearly twenty-one times the meritocratic figure of 0.76. Actual percentage of Asians was 24.86. That's less than half the meritocratic figure of 51.52. That's what this lawsuit was all about.

Actual percentage of whites was a slight tick above the meritocratic figure, perhaps on account of legacies …

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03—The administrative trapdoor.     If my numbers were squishy, though, my main point was correct. To quote myself once again:

The meritocratic option is unacceptable because of race differences in intelligence.

End quote.

That's the nub of the matter. What follows from it isn't hard to predict. I predicted it, and shall re-predict it here.

My prediction two weeks ago was that if the Supreme Court decision ordered college admissions officers to give up race favoritism, those officers would weasel their way out of it somehow.

In fact, as I noted, they were already doing this by no longer requiring applicants' scores on rigorous tests like the SAT and ACT. Without those scores, tables like the one of Prof. Arcidiacono's that I quoted can't be constructed. There's no data to work from.

I should have added, because I had already figured it out, that the Supreme Court's decision, however it went, would contain a trapdoor through which the college admissions officers could escape.

Both the previous two big rulings on this topic, the Bakke decision of 1978 and Grutter in 2003, offered such trapdoors.

In Bakke the Court said that while the defendant college's frank quota system was indeed unconstitutional, there was none the less a compelling governmental interest in a racially diverse student body; and that so long as race was just one of several factors admissions officers considered, that would be constitutionally OK. Call that the "one of several factors" trapdoor.

In Grutter 25 years later the Court upheld Bakke, affirming that diversity in the student body was a compelling interest from which "educational benefits" would flow. However, it qualified the decision by saying that, quote: "race-conscious admissions policies must be limited in time," end quote.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, author of the majority opinion, guessed that after 25 years there would no longer be any need for those policies. Call that the "limited in time" trapdoor.

Both those big decisions, with their built-in little trapdoors for admissions officers to escape through, left those officers free to continue practicing racial favoritism so long as they didn't call them quotas.

Does this week's decision have a trapdoor? Of course it does. Key passage from the ruling, quote:

Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration or otherwise.

End quote.

There you go: the "how race affected my life" trapdoor.

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04—A feast for cynics.     The officers of our universities are already being told how to game this new ruling so they can continue doing what they've been doing. The chieftains at Harvard, for example—President, Provost, Vice President, and fifteen Deans—sent out a letter to all the faculty telling them things like this, sample quote:

Diversity and difference are essential to academic excellence.

To prepare leaders for a complex world, Harvard must admit and educate a student body whose members reflect, and have lived, multiple facets of human experience. No part of what makes us who we are could ever be irrelevant.

Harvard must always be a place of opportunity, a place whose doors remain open to those to whom they had long been closed, a place where many will have the chance to live dreams their parents or grandparents could not have dreamed.

End quote.

I know: it sounds like Kamala Harris wrote it. Translation:

The admissions process may need some slight tweaks to avoid future lawsuits, but we'll figure those out and let you know. Meanwhile, keep doing what you're doing.

End translation.

This whole area of law and policy is a feast for cynics. Our universities are determined to keep race favoritism alive, and the Supreme Court can be depended on to give them a helping hand.

Nobody wants to see meritocratic admissions; nobody wants to see a Harvard entering class that is 0.76 percent black. The oceans would boil and the Earth would crash into the Sun.

A few days ago I had the delightful and instructive experience of sitting down to dinner with Charles Murray, whose latest book, Facing Reality came out just two years ago. The "reality" in the title is reality about race differences, most particularly differences in intelligence and criminality. Murray spells out the differences in patient, well-documented detail.

The book went deeply un-reviewed. Everybody of any importance in the USA turned their faces away from it. Hardly anyone wants to face reality.

Affirmative Action? This past couple of weeks I've read at least a dozen long-form articles predicting this or that about the Supreme Court ruling. The overall impression I got was of guarded cynicism. Well, we cynics were right.

Some of the cynicism wasn't so guarded. I think the best essay I read was by legal academic Jesse Merriam in the current issue of Claremont Review of Books.

Closing words from Prof. Merriam, channeling the late George Wallace, Governor of Alabama. Quote:

Affirmative action now, affirmative action tomorrow, affirmative action forever.

End quote.

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05—The Russian tragedy.     Forty-something years ago I read a book that made a deep impression on me. The author was political scientist Robert Wesson, whose dates were 1920 to 1991. Title of the book: The Russian Dilemma.

To give you the flavor of the book I'll just read out the blurb at Amazon.com. Blurb, slightly edited:

The Russian Dilemma is an outstanding survey and analysis of Russia's development from the end of Mongol rule to the present day. Emphasizing the country's Eurasian heritage in history and geopolitics, the volume explains how Russia's geographical situation has led to the creation of a vast empire—composed of many races, nationalities, and religions—around what was once only a small duchy. Robert Wesson clearly demonstrates how Russia is on the one hand, a European State and, on the other, an Eastern Empire. He describes how the country has drawn heavily on European ideas and technology in order to participate in the Western power system, and yet, politically, has remained an Eastern regime.

End blurb.

In other words the book belongs to the general category of attempts to explain how a nation gets to be the way it is. The answer must be some combination of history, geography, population genetics, and sheer chance. How they all work on each other to make a nation come out like this rather than like that is a fascinating study.

We don't yet have any really conclusive answers to the general question. I've recently dipped my toe into the Theory of Complex Systems—more about that in my upcoming monthly Diary—and I guess when that theory really gets airborne, which as best I can judge it hasn't yet, we might find some answers to that general question. Meanwhile we must content ourselves with studies of particular single nations.

That's what Wesson did in that book. His thesis was that Russia is a political schizophrenic, unable to decide whether it's a European nation of law, constitution and contract, or an old-style Asiatic tremble-and-obey! despotism.

So yes: I've been pondering the latest development in that war between the world's two most corrupt white nations, Russia and Ukraine.

That latest development was the attempted coup last weekend … assuming it was an attempted coup and not what conspiracy theorists are surmising: a Putin false flag, a botched CIA operation, et cetera. On that assumption it looks like a really dumb move on Prigozhin's part.

Putin has an air force, for heaven's sake, and Prigozhin doesn't. He has nukes, and Prigozhin doesn't. One single small tactical nuke would have put an end to the whole thing.

Did Prigozhin pause to think this through? Perhaps he believed that masses of people would rise up in his support, as sometimes happens with insurrections. That would just have meant a whole lot more corpses when the nuke went off, though.

Perhaps he thought Russia's air force wouldn't bomb Russian territory or Russian missile squads wouldn't nuke it. Perhaps he's seriously stupid, or nuts. Or perhaps the conspiracy theorists are on to something.

Whatever. My main hope is the same one I conceived when the whole thing started last year: that we stay the heck out of it. Let the Euros take care of it; it's their business, not ours.

Now, a year and a half on, that hope is overlaid with sadness as it's daily more clear what Russia has become. I can't believe it was inevitable. Could we not, when the USSR collapsed, coax, assist, bribe Russia into modern Western-style nationhood? Did we even try, really?

Now look at the place: squalid, poor, bickering, unproductive, even militarily incompetent.

No, Prof. Wesson, it's not a Western-style Eurostate with a decent degree of liberty and law. Nor does it look like the great old Asiatic empires, which at least had a proud strutting grandeur about them. It's just a lazy, good-for-nothing, drunken slum.

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06—Fukuyama, Huntington, and reality.     For sure, Russia right now isn't looking much like a stable modern nation of the European kind—a Denmark or a Portugal.

As my old boss Rich Lowry opined in the New York Post on Tuesday, quote:

Russia's distance from the Western standard is why a country that is a member of the UN Security Council and the G20 could have a crisis with a distinct Third World flavor.

An ambitious military leader who has a personal following making a bid for power is what we expect in places like Paraguay, Ecuador and Honduras.

End quote.

Elsewhere Russia's sorry condition has drawn some triumphalist crowing. Noah Smith on his blog, June 24th, quote:

To me, the real takeaway from this episode is the comparison to the U.S. Whatever else he did, Prigozhin showed Americans what a weak, declining empire actually looks like.

End quote.

Richard Hanania on Twitter, June 24th, tweet:

There's no good ending for the Russian people that doesn't recognize their entire culture and civilizational model has failed, and the country has to be remade along Western lines.

End tweet.

The Twitter handle "@monitoringbias." June 26th, tweet:

The West is best by almost every measure, and usually by a long shot. The more closely nations outside the West mimic the West, the better off they are.

Putting up with naked perverts at pervert parades is a small price to pay to live in the best countries on earth.

End tweet.

Some themes from the early 1990s are reappearing. If you were around you'll remember that two big names from that time were Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington.

In 1992 Fukuyama published a book titled The End of History and the Last Man, arguing that with the collapse of the USSR there was no alternative to liberal democracy, whose ultimate worldwide triumph was now inevitable.

A year later Samuel Huntington published The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. No, said Huntington, the nations of the world would not converge on a Western-style liberal order. They would remain organized in different civilizations with deeply different values: Islamic, Sinitic, Orthodox Christian, Western, … with plenty of opportunities for conflict.

As best I can see, neither Fukuyama nor Huntington got it right. Liberal democracy triumphant world-wide? China today is more of a despotism than it was thirty years ago. New technologies—facial recognition, the smartphone, artificial intelligence—make total control of the population easier than it has ever been.

The end of ideology leading to retrenching into ancient civilizational blocs? True, today's Russia doesn't much resemble Stalin's USSR. It doesn't much resemble the proud, prosperous, devout, colorful Russia of the Tsars, either, though. As Rich Lowry said, it resembles Paraguay—a Third World slum.

Why is it so hard for nations to be prosperous and free under a uniform rule of law? Why can't all the world be like Australia or Finland?

Or even just like the USA, which, even with Drag Queen Story Hour, compulsory lying about race, Joe Biden selling his favors to foreign crooks, and the FBI trying to stamp out Christianity, is looking pretty good right now.

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07—Miscellany.     And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.

Imprimis:  A footnote to my comments on affirmative action.

If race favoritism in college admissions is unconstitutional, surely race favoritism in appointments to public office must be double or triple unconstitutional, right?

Yet there it is sitting right there on the Supreme Court: Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

A report from Reuters, January 27th last year, quote:

President Joe Biden on Thursday said he plans by the end of February to nominate a Black woman to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, a historic first that he called [inner quote] 'long overdue.' [End inner quote.]

End quote.

And there now sits Justice Jackson: a smart and pleasant person by all accounts, but yes, a black woman.

How is that not race favoritism? And sex favoritism, too, come to think of it. How is that not the President of the United States giving a finger to our Constitution?

I shall make a prediction. The next Supreme Court nominee will have a name of East Asian origin: Kim or Lee or Wang. You heard it here first.

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Item:  I got a bit triumphalist myself last week about India. I summarized the Economist magazine's June 17th India special as "Sell China, buy India!"

A listener directed my attention to a June 24th article in Foreign Policy magazine, title: Will India Surpass China to Become the Next Superpower? Their answer: Not likely.

The writer there is Harvard Professor Graham Allison. He points out all sorts of negative indicators.

  • India's economy is much smaller than China's and growing more slowly.

  • Four of the world's 20 biggest tech companies by revenue are Chinese; none are based in India.

  • China's illiteracy rate is one percent; India's is 25 percent.

  • India's birthrate is twice China's.

  • More than ten percent of India's population of 1.4 billion continue to live below the World Bank extreme poverty line of $2.15 per day. The corresponding percentage for China is basically zero.

And so on. Things don't look too great for India. They might look better if India stopped exporting her best-educated, most-employable people to Europe and North America.

I wonder if Joe Biden suggested that to Prime Minister Modi when the latter was in Washington the other day. Yeah, right …

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Item:  What on earth is going on with air travel? If you were thinking of flying anywhere for the long July 4th weekend, "on earth" is where you probably still find yourself.

New York Post, June 30th, quote:

Problems that have plagued the airline industry all week continued on Thursday, long predicted to be the busiest day for people to get away early ahead of the weekend.

More than 8,000 flights were delayed across the US on Thursday, according to FlightAware data, with Denver and Chicago for once getting hit harder than New York, which bore the brunt the rest of the week …

By 4 p.m. Friday, more than 4,000 US flights were marked as delayed, with around 1,200 canceled.

End quote.

We're being told that staff shortages are the culprit. The FAA laid off a lot of staff when people weren't flying much because of the COVID pandemic. Is it really taking them so long to bring in new hires?

What does our Transportation Secretary, the brilliant, capable, and energetic Peter Buttigieg have to say? When asked on Wednesday he said the weather was the main problem.

The weather, right. We never had weather before, so it's bound to throw the system into chaos.

I mentioned complex systems back there. Well, air travel sure is a complex system: planes, airlines, pilots, passengers, cabin staff, flight controllers, mechanics, ground staff, all working in sync with each other. Is it wrong of me to suspect that we're getting less able to manage complex systems?

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Item:  A fundamental distinction in elementary math is the one between counting numbers and measuring numbers. With counting numbers you jump from one to the other—say from 3 to 4—with nothing in between. With measuring numbers, however, there are lots of numbers in between: 3½, 3.99, 3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164, … a whole infinity of numbers in fact.

Now here's a curious thing about the civilizations of the world. In stating a person's age, some cultures favor counting numbers, some prefer measuring numbers.

We in the West go with measuring numbers. We speak quite unselfconsciously about being 37½ or 85 and three months. East Asians, however, think that's a bit odd. In Korea, for example, you're considered to be one year old at birth, then one more year old each New Year's Day thereafter. If you're born on New Year's Eve, you can be two years old after being just a few hours out of the womb.

As of January 28th, however, that traditional system will no longer be recognized for any legal or governmental purposes. Korea has switched to our system.

So Koreans all became younger Tuesday night; mostly just by one year, but in some cases by two. What's not to like?

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08—Signoff.     Tht's all I have, ladies and gents. Thank you for your time and attention, and best wishes to all for a warm and joyful July 4th weekend with those you love.

For signoff music, let's have some Kipling. A great many of Kipling's poems were set to music and became popular hits in the days of vaudeville and early gramophones. The great Australian baritone Peter Dawson recorded several.

What brought this one to mind was the name Suakim, although nowadays it's spelt with an "n": Suakin. It's the name of a seaport on the Red Sea coast of Sudan. A British force was trapped there for a while in the early 1880s by local rebels who the Brits called "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" on account of their hairstyle.

I heard the name of Suakim on the long drive down to Berkeley Springs mid-month for VDARE's Summer Conference. Peter Brimelow had recommended the Audible reading of Winston Churchill's book My Early Life, so I bought it and listened while driving.

Suakim gets a passing mention there. Churchill served in the Sudan as a cavalry officer. That was some years after the siege that Kipling's referring to, but Suakim was still in people's minds.

The reference to Martinis in the second verse is nothing to do with gin and vermouth. The Martini-Henry was a breech-loading rifle, standard issue for the late-Victorian British infantry.

There will be more from Radio Derb next week.

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[Music clip: Peter Dawson, Fuzzy-Wuzzy.]

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